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Council gives initial OK for Delwau campgrounds

Thursday, February 27, 2020 by Jo Clifton

The case of the Delwau campgrounds rezoning – which Council rejected in 2018 – has returned, minus the sales of hard alcohol that doomed its chances the first time. Last Thursday, Council gave first-round approval for the case that would transform a plot of land next to the Colorado River into a campground for recreational vehicles, a convenience store and a cafe.

The vote was 6-2-2, with Council members Leslie Pool and Kathie Tovo voting no and Council members Ann Kitchen and Alison Alter abstaining. Council Member Greg Casar was off the dais. The new zoning, if finally approved, would allow for up to 60-70 spaces for RVs on a 12-acre plot along a narrow roadway in District 1.

Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents District 1, strongly supported the project. Her predecessor, Ora Houston, opposed the original project when she was on Council.

Developer Noah Zimmerman told Council he envisioned people staying for a season or even “one or two years maybe. There would be shared facilities such as a bathhouse, yoga room and common workspace,” as well as an orchard and gardens. He stressed the importance of having a small cafe with a playground and a market that neighborhood residents and campers alike could use.

Zimmerman explained that the site, which is east of U.S. Highway 183, is not pristine but it is on the Walnut Creek bike path.

He told Council that the new zoning would help alleviate one problem neighborhood residents have – there are no amenities on that side of the highway. The site, which used to be a concrete sacking plant, is in the Austin-Bergstrom airport flight path, and Delwau Lane has abandoned buildings and trash from illegal dumping. The developer promised improvements on the roadway, although some neighborhood residents expressed skepticism.

Jayme Moore told Council she and her neighbors were particularly worried because Delwau Lane is only 13 feet wide, making it difficult at times for two cars to pass each other. She said the lane has a low-water crossing that frequently floods.

Max Elliott, executive director of Urban Roots Farm, a nearby youth nonprofit, also objected to the zoning change based on the narrowness of the road. “I understand residents need amenities for their isolated neighborhood and see this development as an opportunity for their family. However, allowing this development at the end of a substandard road that floods consistently is a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

Moore added that she was skeptical of the 321 trips per day estimated for the project and pointed out that a bridge on Delwau Lane is one of the five worst in the city.

Glen Coleman, who represented Zimmerman, pointed out that the current zoning category, SF-2, would allow for 20 homes, which would equal 310 trips per day. “That’s approximately 10 trips per day fewer than your staff’s calculation for the RVs. So what are you getting for that extra 10 trips per day?”

On the other side was neighbor Chase Brockman, who told Council he had been a resident of the area for the last seven or eight years and that he fully supports the project. “As it stands right now, there’s not really anyplace that’s very close where we can get groceries or anything. It’s quite the drive to just go get bread or milk or anything like that. So I would really look forward to having somewhere I could walk or ride my bike or walk with my dogs and go get some groceries or possibly have a beer at the end of the day.”

Council Member Kitchen said that generally speaking, the city was in favor of more housing, and questioned why they would decide to change the zoning “away from housing in this circumstance, particularly for a zoning category that I’m not seeing a path to keeping the kind of guardrails around it that we would want.”

Harper-Madison, after asking Mayor Steve Adler if she could respond, said, “For District 1, some of the most affordable housing types we have available and that are accessible are mobile.” That, she said, was her reason for supporting the zoning change.

In response to a question from Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, Zimmerman explained that, yes indeed, all of the RV parking spots would be available for long-term rental. He said his company operates a number of long-term RV parks in other states.

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